The photographer: Courtney Jallo of Sacramento
Behind the lens: Vang Vieng is a small, tourism-oriented town settled along the Nam Song River in Laos. It was originally established in the 1300s as a staging post between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, the country's governmental and cultural capitals. Today the town is a popular destination for backpackers, full of cafes and restaurants, guest houses and bars. The main attractions seem to be kayaking and tubing down the river, where foreigners pub-hop between the bamboo bars perched along the water, stopping in for a bottle of local Beer Lao and to play around on the rope swings and zip lines.
My favorite memory from Vang Vieng was waking up in a bamboo hut along the water to the sound of rocks slapping, where I went outside to find a woman kneeling on the ground, pounding river weed – khai paen – a staple vegetable in Laotian cuisine. Khai paen is often cut into squares, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and briefly deep-fried before filling with sticky rice, lemon grass and peanuts. As she pounded away at the dark green matter, a herd of water buffaloes slowly meandered across the bank, then disappeared into the trees. Despite the rapid growth of western tourists to this area, traditional Laotian life continues on.
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